By "academic standards", I'm not talking about admissions as much as I'm talking about the requirement to take legitimate courses in legitimate majors.
By "national appeal", I don't mean that they're the lead story on Sportscenter. I'm referring to their efforts to avoid regionalizing themselves by staying independent. ND itself is located in the Midwest, they have a commitment to play 5 east coast teams per year (the quality/prominence of those ACC teams is another matter), an ongoing series against 2 west coast teams per year, and schedules home & home series vs teams like Texas, Georgia, Michigan, and Ohio St. To be clear, I'm not talking about strength of schedule. I'm talking about its efforts to play games against teams all across the country which is something that teams in a conference are unable to do even if they wanted to.